I have seen a whole lot of takes about BYU's recruiting efforts lately. The takes themselves aren't anything new as most of them are recycled takes from someone else that people just repeat without putting much thought into them. But nonetheless, I've seen a lot of those kinds of takes over the last few weeks.
I guess all of those takes means it's time for me to get on my soapbox and talk through a few things.
I'm not some kind of recruiting czar or anything like that, but if there is a BYU fan who pays more attention to the recruiting world than I do, I would love to shake their hand. From conversations with sources inside and outside of BYU, with recruits themselves, with high school coaches, and with industry experts who cover a variety of different teams across the country... I do think I have some credibility when it comes to talking about how recruiting works.
So let's talk about some stuff and try to set the record straight on some things. Here we go:
We give head coaches way too much credit when things go well and way too much blame when things don't.
Head coaches aren't recruiters, it's simple as that. They don't get to go out and evaluate on high school campuses. They don't get to spend time scouring over thousands of hours worth of film. They aren't the guy that recruits will reach out to when they have questions and they, generally, aren't the coaches who are actually extending the scholarship offers.
What is their role?
They are closers. They set the tone for their staff. They rally the resources for recruiting salaries and tools. And occasionally, they take a more active role in recruiting one-off recruits.
Head coaches are clearly important in recruiting, but it's position coaches are coordinators who do the lion's share of the work.
That isn't exactly breaking news to anybody, but it feels like it's important to establish before we get into some of the other details today.
Schemes do, in fact, matter. So let's talk about them.
There are some head coaches - think of old friends Kyle Whittingham or Bronco Mendenhall - who are the true architects of the schemes that they run. As such, those head coaches are very involved in which players are recruited to play in that system.
For BYU fans, it's easy to assume that's normal because that's what we are so used to seeing along the Wasatch Front.
When I say things like, "head coaches really don't decide who fits onto the roster" I am very regularly told that I'm wrong because of the way Bronco recruited linebackers or the way Whitt goes after corners. But, nobody seems to mention the other side of the ball when they talk about Bronco or Whitt.
I can promise you that Bronco had very little input when deciding to bring in Jamaal Williams or Cody Hoffman. I can promise you that Whittingham had very little to do with Zack Moss or any former Utah offensive linemen. Maybe... MAYBE... these two head coaches had some kind of voice when it came to the quarterback position, but I can promise you that it wasn't a very loud voice.
Coordinators run their scheme. Part of running their scheme is deciding who the players that fit that scheme are.
That's why Zach Wilson didn't get a BYU offer from Ty Detmer and Zadock Dinkelmann did. Detmer thought Z-Dink was the best suited to run his offensive scheme.
When you get a coach like a Bronco or a Whitt who wants to influence every detail of one side of the ball, there is generally a common characteristic that those coaches have: Their coordinators are usually homegrown coordinators.
Think about Utah: Morgan Scalley, Kalani Sitake, Gary Andersen... those aren't coordinators who brought a scheme with them. Those are position coaches who got a bigger title but still reported to the same boss and had the same job duties.
Same story goes for Bronco Mendenhall.
That isn't how Kalani Sitake works. He doesn't have a dedicated scheme that he's in charge of. He might have preferences and certainly influences game plans and play calls, but he hires out the scheme. As such, he's hiring out the player evaluations.
Why does this matter? Because BYU didn't offer Harrison Taggart out of Corner Canyon High School and, somehow, that's Kalani's fault according to so many people.
But it isn't. Kalani never dictated who had to play in Ilaisa Tuiaki or Ed Lamb's schemes the same way he never dictated who Detmer or Jeff Grimes brought into the offense. That's just not the way that he does things.
Occasionally, Sitake will stand up in a meeting and demand that an individual player be offered or he will take it upon himself to be more active in the recruitment of a single player, but by and large, that's not how it works.
Recruiting is the responsibility of the position coaches and the coordinators. When you critique recruiting efforts, it's important to remember where to direct your critique.
Recruiting is more than just a coordinated sales effort.
One of the things that was the most frustrating about the way Tuiaki and Lamb would recruit had nothing to do with their relationships with players or how much communication was there was or wasn't. The most frustrating part of their recruitment was their evaluations of players.
It wasn't so much that they didn't evaluate players, because they did. It wasn't so much that they couldn't identify talent, because they could.
It was that they wouldn't.
Tuiaki and Lamb evaluated at on-campus camps. You saw offers go out during those camps and, frequently, you would see players quickly accept those offers and commit. It made for quick recruiting classes and for a relatively easy job for Tuiaki and Lamb.
But that's not how recuriting works in today's day and age. There are so many players at the high school ranks and it is so easy to evaluate tons and tons of film. You just have to dedicate the time to go out and hit the film.
Evaluation is such an important part of recruiting. It may not be more important than relationships, but it definitely isn't less important. If you have a coach who isn't willing to evaluate hundreds or thousands of players, then you have a coach who isn't worth a damn on the recuriting trail.
You have to evaluate.
That's one thing that Jay Hill and Kelly Poppinga immediately brought with them to BYU. Those two are film junkies. They will watch film on anyone who might check a box. In fact, they might watch too much film, to the point that they are late offering a kid because they are still trying to stack up Player A's film with Player AAA's film to see who they like more.
Evals are key. Good evaluators are critical. We don't talk anywhere near enough about evaluations when it comes to the recruiting world.
The Transfer Portal changes the way rosters are managed.
I've seen takes and had lots of questions about 'does the portal replace some high school need' and we'll get into that in a little bit.
But there is another element of transfer portal management that really hasn't been talked about, and it's an element that pro teams have to think about when they are assembling their rosters.
The transfer portal means players can, and will, leave at the drop of a hat. And unless you're a powerhouse team who can just stack elite talent and top of elite talent and then replace that elite talent with more elite talent whenever you want, you have to be a little more methodical in how you make out your roster.
That's right folks, we're talking about role players.
BYU is not a school that just can stockpile four stars on top of four stars in every recruiting class. As such, if there were ever an exodus of players from the BYU roster, they would probably struggle to replace them all with equal or better players.
Maybe more simply put: BYU can't do what Colorado is doing and expect a roster. upgrade.
(Side note: The Cougars are doing some of that this year, but that's more about a roster full of players who shouldn't have been on the roster being pushed out by a new coaching staff, you won't see that kind of turnover year-over-year.)
BYU will still have to rely on player development to reach their goals. That means they need players who are committed enough to the program to allow the coaches to develop them. It isn't easy to find those players if you're going after nothing but four-star dudes trying to stack elite talent on elite talent.
It's a dicey game. You don't want to turn away elite talent if elite talent wants in, but you want to make sure you allocate room for role players who are going to stick around for a few years and have a positive influence on the practice field and in the locker room. Those players will frequently have big junior or senior seasons, but in the transfer portal era, so many of those types of players might not get to their junior or senior seasons.
Think of players like Micah Simon. Simon was a positive influence on the recruiting trail and a winner in the locker room. His playing time was sparse for most of his career, but when his senior season rolled around, he proved how talented he really was. Do you think Simon would have stuck it out for three years at BYU in the transfer portal era?
I'm not so sure.
So not every player is going to be penciled in as a starter anymore. Take someone like Enoch Watson. Is he going to be a multi-year starter at quarterback for BYU? Hopefully! But I wouldn't count on it. But, he's a BYU guy who dreamt of playing for BYU. He's an elite athlete who could provide very important reps for BYU at some point in his career. At worst, he's a guy who can develop into Baylor Romney - and you all remember how important Romney was for BYU. At best, he surprises people and wins a starting job.
You need guys like that. We're going to need to start looking for players like that in BYU's recruiting classes.
And that other transfer portal thing...
No, the transfer portal cannot, will not, and should not replace high school recruiting. Yes, BYU has had success in the portal this year and yes, they could theoretically have success in the portal every year. But, BYU can never get to a point where they are solely relying on the transfer portal first. Their roster always has to be primarily made up of high school or JUCO guys.
Why? Well let's talk about my bank.
We are a bank for truckers. As such, we have products that cater to truckers and the trucking industry. Among the weird things that truckers do are what we call industry checks. They are trucking specific checks that only truckers use. If you take one of these goofy checks to your regular bank and try to deposit it, they won't know what to do with it. You need a bank like mine to process them timely.
It's a differentiator for my bank in the marketplace, but there is a glaring issue with these checks being part of my bank's strategic plan: We don't control them at all.
If the company who issues these checks decides they are going to issue prepaid cards instead of checks, my competitive differentiator goes the way of the dodo bird.
A competitive advantage is great as long as you can consistently rely on it. And you can only consistently rely on things that you can consistently control.
BYU cannot control the transfer portal.
The NCAA could change eligibility rules tomorrow. Some kind of federal legislation could get passed next week that changes NIL and what players are looking for when they enter the portal. Players could start to figure out that more than half the players who enter the portal don't ever find a new home and then decide to stop going to the portal so quickly.
Long story, short: BYU cannot control who goes into the portal, what comes out of the portal, or even how the portal works.
BYU can and should always be active in the transfer portal, but making that such an important part of their strategy that they are forgoing efforts in the high school ranks is asking for trouble down the road. Start with high school recruits always and then supplement with players from the portal.